The EU could soon have the power to declare a European health emergency, independently from the World Health Organisation. Building on lessons learned with recent crises, such as the swine ful (H1N1) pandemic in 2009, the volcanic ash cloud in 2010 and the outbreak of E.coli in 2011, the European Commission presented, on 8 December 2011, a draft decision whose aim is to tackle serious cross-border health threats. The new proposal, which repeals Decision 2119/98/EC, reinforces the state of preparedness of member states by establishing common procedures and standards, shared resources, and a better exchange of expertise and information.
"In today's globalised society, people and goods move across borders and illnesses can spread around Europe - and the globe - within hours. This is why the European Union and its member states must be prepared to act together in a fully coordinated manner to stop a disease from spreading," said the Commissioner for Health, John Dalli, recalling that EU legislation on this topic dated back to 1998. The major change brought on by the new proposal concerns diseases covered by EU legislation: while before, risk-assessing measures and coordination measures only concerned transmittable diseases, the new proposal extends this expertise to other health threats. Networks could now be set up on an ad hoc basis for threats of biological origin (such as antimicrobial resistance); threats of chemical origin (caused by accidents or explosions); or threats of environmental origin (caused by extreme weather conditions); as well as for public health emergencies; and threats of unknown origin. However, the proposal does not include nuclear or radiological threats, which continue to pertain to the Euratom Treaty.
LESSONS OF THE PAST
The Commission has also proposed a series of measures to avoid an over-assessment of risks and a colossal vaccine purchase, as was the case in 2009-2010 with swine flu (H1N1). Firstly, the Commission suggests that the EU be empowered to recognise a dangerous disease - that is preventable through...